Sunday, May 23, 2021

Empire of the Xiongnu

The Xiongnu were a steppe people who dominated the areas north of China between the 3rd century BC and the 2nd century AD. Their empire extended from the Ordos to Lake Baikal and from Manchuria to eastern Kazakhstan with its heartland in Mongolia.

Historians have convincingly demonstrated that for the Xiongnu Empire circumstances of crisis, exacerbated by Qin incursions into the steppes, initiated processes of state formation through the supplanting of traditional aristocracies.

Earlier record appeared that Xiongnu repeated invasions around 5th century BC, prompted the small kingdoms of North China to begin erecting what later became the Great Wall.

Historical narratives recount this development as centered around the charismatic leader Maodun who killed his father and, after a coup, quickly began conquests to subdue neighboring groups.

Between 209 and 161 BC, under the rule of Maodun and his son Jiyu, the Xiongnu brought under their control neighboring tribes and established a powerful confederation encompassing much of Mongolia, China's Inner Mongolia and Southern Siberia.

In the process, the Xiongnu crushed Chinese forces and in 198 BC secured a treaty, called heqin, involving Chinese princesses and lavish gifts from the nascent Han dynasty for several generations afterward.

As the Xiongnu expanded territorially, their dominion would also come to include peoples in the north. Empowered by the Xiongnu, a new aristocracy, remarkably homogeneous in terms of its own social and political identity, would emerge, thereby establishing power centers across Northern Mongolia.

Xiongnu expansions peaked in the early second century BC when Modun proclaimed “all the people who draw the bow have now become one family and the northern region has been pacified.

Skilled in weaponry and warfare, the Xiongnu waged constant wars with China for supremacy in the Ordos region, leading to mixed results. Owing to increasing Chinese dominance and internal tensions, the Xiongnu empire started to decline in the first century BC.
Empire of the Xiongnu

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